Lyme disease is an important public health problem for people of all ages. It is the most commonly diagnosed tick-borne disease in the United States. If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to serious health problems, chronic arthritis, nerve and heart damage.
Prevention is the key to avoiding tick bites. The best preventive measure is to avoid areas where ticks live - tall grass, brush and wooded areas - especially during the late spring and early summer. People should check themselves, their children and their pets daily for ticks. Biting ticks must remain attached on the human body for at least 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease.
In December 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the world's first vaccine for the prevention of Lyme disease. "This vaccine works to kill the bacteria in the tick," said Dr. Johnson, "so the tick is unable to pass Lyme disease to people." The vaccine is another level of protection that people can use to prevent Lyme disease. The efficacy of the vaccine in preventing Lyme disease in the study population was 78 percent after three doses. Officials recommend that you talk to your health care provider about whether you should be vaccinated with the Lyme disease vaccine.
If you live, play, work or visit an area where ticks are found, wear light-weight, light-colored clothing with long sleeves and long pant legs. This should enable you to more easily spot ticks. Make sure the pant legs are tucked into socks and the shirt is tucked into pants. Use tick repellents (be sure to read package directions before using on infants or children). Frequent, body checks (especially scalp, ears, armpits, groin and other skin folds) should be done at least every day. Consider getting the Lyme disease vaccine if you frequent tick-infested areas. People at highest risk of getting a tick bite include those associated with areas that have a large tick population.
If you find a tick on your body, remove it properly and immediately. If possible, use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible and pull straight back and up with a slow steady force. If you are without tweezers, use your fingers, but protect them by using a tissue or glove.
Although prevention is best, if you develop Lyme disease symptoms, seek treatment immediately. The most common symptom of Lyme disease is a circular reddish expanding rash often at the site of the tick bite. It typically has a pale center with a red rim, giving the appearance of a "bull's eye." You should see your health care provider if you develop flu-like symptoms (headache, fever, chills, tiredness), a rash, or muscle/joint aches or pain, within 3-32 days after you find a tick attached.
All stages of Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics under the care of your health care provider. It is almost never too late to treat Lyme disease. Long-term problems can be prevented with early attention and treatment of Lyme disease.
For more information about Lyme disease contact your local health care provider or local health department.